When Beyoncé premiered Lemonade, Black women and girls around the world declared a collective, “Yasssssss!” We were mesmerized by seeing our faces represented in the film and encouraged when we heard our experiences affirmed in Beyoncé’s lyrics and Warsan Shire’s poetry.
About a quarter way into the film, I had the epiphany that Lemonade, the album and film, was unapologetically about and dedicated to Black Women. Although she depicted universal themes of love, betrayal, heartbreak, anger, insecurity and confidence, forgiveness, longing for freedom, and empowerment, Beyoncé centered images and narratives of Black women while telling this story.
Beyoncé did something that most filmmakers in Hollywood either don’t think to do or deliberately intend not to do: she presented Black women’s humanity in all its complexity, history, and beauty. Not only did Beyoncé pledge allegiance to Black women, she presented Black women as the work of art that we are. She moved Black women from the margins to the center.
Lemonade celebrates Black women while also acknowledging how we are harmed by systems and individuals. Lemonade is not just a personal tale of the ups-and-downs of intimate relationships; it is a political statement.
The film featured Serena Williams, the best athlete in the world, dancing and showing off her beautiful and muscular body as an act of resistance to the enduring narrative that Serena is unattractive and “manly” because of her musculature. Quvenzhané Wallis andAmandla Stenberg stand proudly in their young Black womanhood in spite of the name misrecognition and harsh criticism for speaking against racism they respectively endured, even in their youth. The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, all slain because of their Black masculinity and police brutality, mourn the loss of their sons in the film. Lemonade is a tribute to Black women.
Beyoncé created a space for Black women and some people, like Piers Morgan, don’t like that. They call the film, album, and Beyoncé exclusionary. They say that Lemonadeis reverse-racism and attempt to draw parallels between the film and analogize it to the argument that #BlackLivesMatter is exclusionary and divisive, and that instead, we should say that #AllLivesMatter. These critics and cynics believe that Lemonade is not about, and should not solely be for, Black women; they argue that Lemonade is for everybody.
Declarations like these miss the entire point while unknowingly affirming the need for #BlackLivesMatter and Lemonade. #BlackLivesMatter is an affirmative statement in response to the undisputed statistical and historical narrative that Black lives are disposable and barely worthy of more than mere survival. Just as the movement affirms and celebrates Black lives, Lemonade does so for Black women. Affirmation and celebration of these marginalized groups do not necessarily equate to the exclusion and denial of others. Such a bootstrapping argument is a logical fallacy. Beyoncé singing, “I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros,” does not mean she dislikes babies that do not look like her own.
Lawyers should care about Beyonce’s Lemonade because the film and album teach a valuable lesson about society in general and the legal profession in particular. Lemonadedemands that we ask ourselves, “What do we do when a historically marginalized group sets out to publicly affirm and nurture itself?”
The first thing you should do is ask yourself, “Why?” Why is this affirmation necessary? Ideally, your internal analysis should stop there. As soon as you acknowledge that the public affirmation stems from historical denial of that group’s rights and humanity, you should accept the affirmation, and in the best case, become an ally for that group. Realistically, however, this doesn’t happen. Again, look at Piers Morgan. The centering of a marginalized group necessarily makes those already at the center believe they are being left out of something great. They don’t want to be excluded and they don’t want to believe that such centering and affirmation is even necessary today.
DON’T DO THAT. Don’t take it personally. Let people celebrate themselves without thinking they are degrading or excluding you.
Don’t degrade affinity groups, e.g., Outlaw, Black Law Students Association, Hispanic Bar Association, etc., because you are not part of that group. If you are not a member of a minority group or a marginalized group, don’t whine that you don’t also have a group or resources that are earmarked just for you. AMERICA IS JUST FOR YOU. THE LEGAL PROFESSION IS JUST FOR YOU. WEALTH IS JUST FOR YOU. EDUCATION IS JUST FOR YOU. POLICE AND THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM ARE MEANT TO PROTECT YOU. I am not exaggerating. Every insitution in the United States was designed by white men to protect white men and women. Don’t cry, protest, or plan to “make America great again” because minorities and marginalized groups are organizing to dismantle these systems of white supremacy that put you at the top of every ladder for generations.
Ask yourself, “What would Beyonce do?”
If you begin to feel like this: “Mexicans are taking all our jobs,” transgender people should have to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth,” “Black women and men should not wear their hair in dread locs or other kinky-curly natural styles in the workplace,” “mothers should not be able to breast feed in public,” “women don’t deserve to earn as much money as men because they don’t do as much work (since they’re mothers and all),” “Native Americans should not have scholarship funds set aside for them,” “diversity should not be taken into account during the college admission review process,” “LGBT people should not be allowed to marry or to be protected from employment discrimination,” “differently-abled people should not be given the job because you think their disability prevents them from fulfilling the job duties,” stop and ask yourself, What would Beyonce do?
Beyonce would learn why these minorities and marginalized people need such affirmative action, acknowledge the historical and the present circumstances that demand these actions, and then intentionally accept that marginalized people should not have to occupy that space of silence, misrepresentation, ignorance, and lack of resources. She would demand that those on the margins become centered. That’s also what we at Inclusion at Work would do.